Part 7 of the 2019 Deutschtown Music Festival In Review
Bonnie and the Mere Mortals are a recently established Pittsburgh band whose music blends the yearning twang of country and bluegrass music with the echoey, ethereal textures of post punk and even shoegaze to create a modern take on the Southern Gothic sound.
I had a free hour built into my otherwise full itinerary from 5-6, starting from the time the Gentleman Brawlers finished their set at Javor Croatian National Hall. I raced off to Foreland St to forage among the food trucks, eventually settling on a massive Korean beef burrito from a truck whose name I can’t remember. I stuffed my face as fast as I could before setting off to the Threadbare Cider House, located waaaay down Spring Garden Ave on the outskirts of the festival, where Bonnie and the Mere Mortals were playing at 6.
The stage was set up outside, right next to the gravel parking lot, at the end of an expanse that I’m going to call a cider garden, for lack of a better term. The band was still soundchecking when I got there, so I went inside and sat in the air conditioning for a few minutes. Eventually, after polishing off a glass of cider, I went back outside and found a seat in a tiny plastic chair that made me feel like a toddler.
Bonnie and the Mere Mortals (or at least their lineup that day) consisted of Bonnie Ramone herself on guitar and lead vocals, backed by Dustin LeCornu on guitar and Mike Simms on upright bass. Sam Phillips is the group’s resident beatmaker, but he was not present at the Deutschtown set.
Despite a sound guy who seemed more interested in eating pizza than in creating a balanced mix, (I can’t really criticize, though, since I’d be completely lost if I tried to work sound at a concert), the band impressed, especially Ramone, whose soaring, fiery voice illustrated some dusty tales of heartbroken ramblin’ and leavin’ no-good significant others. Once his guitar mic was turned up to audible levels, LeCornu was able to sprinkle the band’s songs with shimmering arpeggios and keening slide notes drenched in sustain. The addition of Simms’ sturdy bass notes to these dreamier elements is another reason why I was intrigued the band’s performance; it was like watching either the rootsiest shoegaze show ever or the haziest bluegrass show ever.
Bonnie and the Mere Mortals released their Tennessee EP in June, and it’s a great showcase of their signature sound. The titular track chugs and rattles along with the force of a southbound steam train, and “It all ends like this” is led by a softly plucked banjo, which is incredible, because every album, no matter the genre, should be required to have a banjo in there somewhere. My favorite from the EP is “309,” narrated from the perspective of a woman who’s planning to hop a train and leave her lover behind. The recorded version is drenched in sheets of droning, Flying Saucer Attack-esque guitar, but the version that the band played at the Deutschtown Festival was stripped-down and acoustic; the second I heard the tear-jerking, hammer-on finger picking that introduces the track, I knew the audience was in for something special.